You have a big rematch—the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc—coming up at the end of next month. There, you will be facing off against your Western States rival, Kilian Jornet, on his home turf, where he is the defending champion and holds the course record. How are you getting yourself ready for that race?
I’m going to approach it the way I approach all my races, which is to head over there and try to have fun, run, and let a strategy unfold on race day. I know it’s definitely going to be a super tough race. In my mind, Kilian is the favorite in this race—without a doubt. But even at Western States, my approach was to get prepared physically and mentally, show up at the race, and let it play out. That’s definitely my plan. I’m definitely focusing on running as much vertical as I can for the next month in training. I kind of do a ton of vertical in my training anyway. Kilian is an amazingly strong climber. Climbing and descending he seems really solid, so I’ll try to focus on that. I think I can certainly hold with him on the flat ground. I’ll try to do as much last-minute work that I can do on ups and downs.
Most non-ultra runners do some sort of high-intensity repeat sessions, like quarters or mile repeats in order to prepare for their race. Do you do some sort of repeat workouts to prepare for your 100-mile races, such as hill climb repeats? Or do you just go out and run as far as possible, incorporating climbs as part of those runs?
I just pretty much go out and run. I used to have a lot more structure in my training. I would do various repeats, hills, and tempo workouts. But now, there are some days where I’ll do 8,000-10,000 feet of vertical in a training run a couple times a week, so I don’t really worry about doing hills on a specific days, because I tend to get a ton of vertical in anyway.
How do you go from running all these hours out alone in the wilderness to showing up in a race where all of a sudden you are out there to beat people and win a race?
I think I do so much of my training here in areas where I live right in the middle of Juneau, right in the city. It’s not a major city, but if you go a mile from town, you are in total wilderness. You can be out for a five-hour run and generally not see anybody. I think that by doing so much of my training like that, it helps a lot on race day—especially for 100 milers. I think I alluded to this earlier, but I think it’s not really important to focus on other runners, especially when you are struggling. I think the fact that I’m used to doing so much training off in the mountains by myself makes it easier on race day to focus on my race. And there are times when you’ve got to be aware of what’s going on around you with the other competitors, but I think by nature and instinct, most people are fairly competitive. So you can thrive off like-minded people trying to do the same thing. Sometimes races feel like a treat to me, because it’s cool to share the experience with all the other people. I kind of get excited to be out there with hundreds of people who are trying to get to the same point as I am as fast as they can.
Back to your unbeaten streak in 100-mile races: Are you out to keep the streak alive? Is the streak a negative in any way, where you have pressure to try and keep it going? Or do you not care about it?
I think for the most part it is kind of out there. It’s a fun little fact. I guess at this point running a 100 miler has a little bit more significance with me than a 50 miler does. My success is definitely something I am kind of proud of. I’m certainly kind of aware of it. It makes a 100 miler a little more special than something it already is, and certainly I don’t feel like I need to win every race in order for it to be a successful race. I definitely thrive off the success I’ve had at that distance so far. It certainly gives me some confidence, which is always a nice thing.
There were a lot of course changes in this year’s Western States due to the snow. Because of those changes, some people who know the course really well have suggested that it was faster this year and so you set a different course record. With that in mind, do you have any intentions to return to Western States to run the old course or do you not care?
That’s not really much of a factor for me as far as going back to Western States at some point. I’m likely to run Western States again at some point, because it’s a really exciting race, but I don’t feel at all that I’m motivated specifically to try and run it on the normal course or whatever. I would have rather run the normal course, because the rerouted section of the course was nice, but from what I’ve heard, the normal course has sections of nice ridgeline. Most of the re-route was on gradual downhill double track, which isn’t necessarily my favorite terrain. I was kind of bummed that we needed to end up doing the re-route. But I just ran the course that was out there to run that day. If I run it again, it won’t be because I’m motivated by that at all.
What kind of advice can you offer to someone contemplating running their first ultramarathon?
You have to find a way to make it enjoyable on a day-to-day basis, because it takes so much time training. The races are so long. If it’s not something that you are really enjoying most every day, it’s going to be very difficult. It’s different for everyone. Some people really like the discipline and suffering aspect and other people like it to be more low key.
You run for hours and hours every day. What is going through your head all that time?
Everything. [He laughs.] It’s no different than if you were to go out in your car and drive for 16 hours. Some runs I have more significant-feeling thoughts and other times I’m thinking about what I’m eating for dinner. It’s a little bit of everything. I go through phases where I feel mentally that I’m in this groove for every run. I’m having these deep, meditative thoughts. And then I go through phases where I think about really frivolous, mundane stuff.
Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first book, Oxygen Debt, has just been released.Pages: 1 2